All that has changed.
Republicans last week seized control of the evenly divided chamber and immediately stripped the heavily Democratic region of its sizeable clout. Now there’s not a single Northern Virginian at the helm of a committee. The majority leader hails from Hampton Roads. And on top of that, two powerful, longtime senators from Northern Virginia retired.
Many in Northern Virginia’s delegation fear they’ve lost the power to push through legislation to benefit the region and stop bills that hurt it.
Quite a comeuppance for a place that’s home to nearly one-third of the commonwealth’s 8 million residents, one known to refer dismissively to everything south of the Rappahannock River as RoVa, as in “rest of Virginia.”
Northern Virginia has long complained that, with its fast-growing, affluent suburbs and vast business base, it foots the bill for more than its fair share of state services. Some of the region’s leaders have for decades proposed — sometimes with tongue in cheek, sometimes not — seceding from the state.
But now Northern Virginians feel like they’ve been shown the door.
“Northern Virginians have definitely lost influence,” said Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), who lost her chairmanship of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and is waiting to hear whether she and two Northern Virginia colleagues will be reappointed as budget conferees. “We’re the economic engine of the state, and our needs need to be addressed. And the danger is that they won’t be.”
Even some Republicans believe the region will be hurt.
“I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but it does,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee. “To the extent that Chuck Colgan” — the Democratic senator from Prince William who chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee — “will not be there to kill things, it will be a loss.’’
In a state as large and diverse as Virginia, Northern Virginians are a troubled that senators from outside the region won’t fully appreciate their epic traffic woes and other pressing problems. This year, the region’s legislators hope to fight Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s $65 million cut to “cost to compete” funds, extra money the region has been allotted in the past to woo school employees in that high-dollar jobs market.
“These are things worked out in conference committee,” said Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon). “The cost to compete is something that only benefits Northern Virginia. It’s something we need. Our teachers just cost a lot more.”
Northern Virginia senators also worry about their ability to block legislation on social issues that play very differently in the more racially diverse, better-educated and liberal Washington suburbs than in more rural parts of the state.